There’s a lot of emphasis placed in first-round picks these days, and there’s a lot of reason why. The player will likely command a great deal of money and everyone thinks he is the next Sandy Koufax or Mickey Mantle. Listen, I get it. I was wondering what my next post should be about and really wanted to make a top 10 list of some sort. So, after browsing for a while, I came upon a page that listed all the Braves first-round draft picks. I combed through them and decided to rank my top 10. Yes, you noticed I said my top 10. Not yours … but feel free to leave yours in the comments below!
10. Kelly Johnson
Kelly Johnson was drafted first round, 38th overall in 2000. He made his debut in 2005 when the 17 “baby braves” invaded the major-league roster to propel them to what would be the final year of the 14th consecutive division title. This is what Johnson had to say after they clinched that year:
“I was just sitting there kidding around with Chipper [Jones] about [how] maybe we should have a meeting for all the rookies about proper etiquette on how to celebrate a division,” said outfielder Kelly Johnson prior to Atlanta’s 12-3 victory over Colorado on Tuesday, which ended shortly after the Phillies’ loss to the Mets had wrapped up the Braves’ record 14th straight division title. “I asked him if there was a dogpile and he just shook his head, ‘No,’ and looked at me like I was stupid. But, honestly, I really don’t know what we’re supposed to do.”
Johnson ended up sticking around until the end of the 2009 season, when he was unfortunately non-tendered. He played outfield and second base, the latter he eventually lost to Yunel Escobar. He batted leadoff early in his career and had the longest hitting streak in the majors in 2008 with 22 games. Kelly put up respectable stats for the Braves while he was there, and his journey currently has him playing for the Rays.
9. Mike Minor
Mike Minor was drafted seventh overall in the 2009 draft. Minor was drafted out of Vanderbilt where he played alongside Pedro Alvarez and David Price. He did his country duty by leading Team USA to a gold medal over cuba with Stephen Strasburg in 2008. He was Baseball America’s summer player of the year. He made his debut in 2010 and recorded his first strikeout against a current Brave, Chris Johnson. He currently holds the rookie single game strikeout record of 12, passing Tommy Hanson’s 11. Minor is a 25-year-old who shows a lot of promise and could very well move up this list. He’s been instrumental in the Braves success in 2012 and 2013. Some scouts have him as the ace of this year’s rotation.
8. Jason Heyward
Jason Heyward was drafted 14th overall in 2007. Heyward was named 2009 Minor League Player of the Year and was the number-one prospect in 2010 according to Baseball America and Keith Law. He broke camp in 2010 after showcasing his power during spring training, busting Assistant GM’s Bruce Manno’s car. He led off his career with a bang, a three-run shot off of Carlos Zambrano. He earned National League Rookie of the Month during his first two months, which earned him an All-Star selection. He’s already captured a Gold Glove, stole home in a game, broke his jaw, started two years in a row with a home run and has pretty much been a bad ass his whole career. Sky’s the limit.
7. Kent Mercker
Kent Mercker was taken fifth overall in the 1986 draft. Mercker is best known for his one and a half no-hitters with his time with the Braves. He was a respectable reliever and starter who helped the Braves begin their improbable run. He was traded in 1995 to the Orioles.
6. Jeff Francoeur
Jeff Francoeur, Frenchy or The Natural was drafted 23rd overall in the 2002 draft. In 2005, he came up to make an immediate impact as part of the “baby braves.” His first major league hit, like Heyward, was a home run. In 2006, Francoeur became the fifth Braves player to play in all 162 games, batting .260 with 29 home runs and 103 RBIs. Jeff was known for his defensive skills and terrific arm that garnered him a Gold Glove in 2007. He once challenged Cal Ripken Jr.’s consecutive-game streak with … 370. It was that close. He’s most famous for taking 128 plate appearances to start his career before earning a walk. After every pitcher in the world realized he swung at every pitch, his downfall began. He was one of the most exciting Braves players of the decade.
5. Bob Horner
Bob Horner was the first overall pick in 1978 draft and made his way to the majors the same year without recording a minor league at-bat. Hey, even Bryce Harper couldn’t do that! He belted his first home run in his first game off future Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven. He ended up hitting .266 with 23 home runs and 63 RBIs in only 323 at-bats. Rumor is he beat Ozzie Smith for Rookie of the Year. He averaged around 25 home runs for the nine years he played as a Brave. He left as a free agent and went to Japan when the baseball economy couldn’t afford him. Unfortunately, his injuries were too much throughout his career and he gave up baseball at age 30.
4. Steve Avery
Steve Avery was the third overall pick in the 1988 draft. He was most remembered for anchoring the rotation that started the Braves consecutive division title run as a 21-year-old in 1991, as he went 18-8 with a 3.38 ERA. Avery also won the NLCS MVP award in 1991, was an All-Star and was the greatest thing since sliced bread in Atlanta. Unfortunately, he was overworked early in his career and never recovered. It was fun while it lasted.
3. Dan Meyer
Dan Meyer was drafted 34th overall in 2002 draft. He had an awesome minor-league career. Braves traded him for Tim Hudson in 2004. Enough said.
2. Dale Murphy
Dale Murphy was the fifth overall pick of 1974 draft. He’s a two-time MVP and one of the all-time greats to play in Atlanta. He should be in the Hall of Fame. If you don’t know who he is … just read his stats here. He played 15 years in Atlanta, 18 years overall in the majors.
1. Chipper Jones
Chipper Jones was the first overall pick in 1990. He’s a future Hall of Fame third basemen that played all of his 19 years with the Atlanta Braves. Dedication. He had 468 career home runs and a .303 batting average as a switch hitter. If you need more, you can read my love letters to him here: Chipper Jones Tribute and HOF Standards and the RBI.
The Braves drafted Adam Wainwright, too, but we’ll leave that for another day.